Wednesday, 24 January 2018

#72 The Elms, Highworth Town

Highworth Town 1 - Royal Wootton Bassett Town 1 (Abandoned after 57 minutes)
Wednesday 10th January 2017, Hellenic League Floodlit Cup Third Round

Contrary to how it may appear, not every one of my groundhopping trips is a well-planned, rip-snorting success. Occasionally they've been a testament to blind luck in fact. Arguably, with all the more local games for the week being called off due to weather, I should have considered a Wednesday night jaunt into rural Wiltshire to be too risky. However, the Yorkshire terror that is Daz Knapton was still blazing ahead of me in the new grounds steaks so I decided to take my chances.

The fare on offer wasn't the most exciting either, a third round clash in the Hellenic League Cup or the Pepetua Press Printing Solutions Floodlit Cup, if you like. Despite this, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I headed out along the motorway because the weather was remarkably dry. I was so happy with this in fact that I failed to spot the gathering fog which was only getting thicker the closer I got to Swindon.

Located outside of Swindon-proper (the lucky devils), Highworth have been going since 1893 and are currently playing at their highest level ever. Although they won the Hellenic Premier in 2004/05, they never went up and have been pretty all over the place ever since, finishing between 4th and 16th. Highworth's greatest cup success came in 2014-15 when they made it to the semi-finals of the FA Vase, losing out to North Shields 3-0 on aggregate. Royal Wootton Bassett Town are the older club, having been formed in 1882 but have never won the Hellenic League nor gone any higher. They also haven't had as good a run in any of the major cups as Highworth, though they did win something called the Brotherhood Cup in 1938-39. Your guess is as good as mine.

I was helpfully instructed by the club's twitter person to park up in the neighbouring golf club upon arrival, their car park being in the same massive field as the football pitch. I was having quite a bit of trouble spotting the main entrance in the fog but luckily two club stalwarts had the brainwave to man a large gap in the fence equipped with a change tin, so I entered through there. The fence that lines the far side of the ground was full of gaps, which is probably why the club failed to go up when they finished as champions. The side opposite this has two banks of covered seating, with a covered standing portion in the centre which bears the initials of the club hastily painted on breeze blocks. Magic. The end opposite where I'd entered is where the clubhouse stands, looming over proceedings on a little hill with a railed-off path for the players to access the changing rooms below. I've seen worse grounds but to be honest I'd never had so much trouble actually seeing a ground as you can probably tell from the pictures.

Highworth start the game brightly. They must really want to get their hands on those Printing Solutions. They overcomplicate a few good moves though and in time Wootton start to get the ball up their end a bit, meaning I have to move to a more central position in the vague hope of seeing anything. A Wootton player hacks down a Highworth player rather bad-temperedly on the goal line just outside the box. This looked like an ideal free kick position but unfortunately it's wasted. The kicker did what I thought was the sensible thing and rolled it out diagonally to meet a teammate in the D but the resulting shot was pitifully weak and easily dealt with. Later on Wootton get into a one-on-one but it's somehow blocked by the onrushing keeper with mighty thud. Minutes later another collision with the keeper leaves a Wootton player writhing on the ground. After some deliberation the referee shows a yellow card, much to the chagrin of some meathead behind the goal who spends the entire set-up of the kick screaming at the referee in a weird cockney Swindon accent. The free kick is spooned over the bar and our lad bellows "and that's a rubbish free kick!" leaving me wondering if he's a Wootton fan or just a general fan of being livid.

All-in-all it's quite a good half of football considering the lack of goals, very free flowing, occasionally end-on-end and most importantly: extremely bad tempered. Well, it is ostensibly a derby after all. Feeling a little chilly I decided to take in the clubhouse, just as soon as I'd waited patiently for the players and officials to climb up the unreasonably long path to the changing rooms. I wanted to drink my pint at a leisurely pace for once and luckily for me there was a window at the side of the room where I imagine on a clear day you'd get quite a good view of the pitch.

I left my executive box for approximately two minutes to use the facilities before heading back out to the action and during that time it transpired that I'd missed two goals, one from each side. Whilst I was still reeling from this, the referee called off the match due to the fog. Although some people in the ground made a valiant attempt to, you couldn't really complain about this. For lovers of a feisty non-league derby, the replay will take place on Wednesday the 31st of January (weather depending).

Br00tal kvlt groundhopping black metal \m/

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